Facebook unlikely to dethrone Line in Japan anytime soon

Line characters, at Line HQ in Tokyo
Line characters, at Line HQ in Tokyo

With over 340 million registered users around the world, Line’s success as a mobile platform is difficult to ignore. Over 9.2 billion messages are sent daily, and thanks to games and stickers Line brought in 12.2 billion yen in the last quarter [1].

Line’s home market of Japan is an interesting one to examine, given that 50 million of its registered users are based there [2]. As far back as a year ago, we declared here that ‘Line is the Japanese Facebook’, a comparison referring primarily to its dominance rather than any similarity in features. But how does the social internet landscape look in Japan in 2014? Let’s take a look at a couple of recent surveys that shed some light on this.

Japanese market research site Fast-Ask recently polled a group of 680 people (ranging from teenages to those in their 40s) and asked them a barrage of questions. The most interesting question perhaps was (roughly translated) “Out of Facebook, Twitter, and Line, which would present the most trouble if it were suddenly taken away from you?” Almost half of respondents (49.0%) chose Line as their most essential service, with the rest of the respondents split between Twitter, Facebook, and “I don’t know.”


Similarly, when asked “Which service on average do you use most?”, 40.4% of respondents said it was Line, with Twitter and Facebook polling at 32.6% and 23.5% respectively.

One of the reasons that Line has done so well is that it has managed to attract female users as well as male. The cute characters have helped its popularity in Thailand and Taiwan especially, where the service has 22 million and 17 million registered users respectively. A number of other ‘kawaii’ Japanese apps , including CocoPPa and Snapeee have won some attention in those regions as well, where made-in-Japan cuteness appears to be popular.

Here in Japan, Line is especially popular with the ladies, as another recent survey of over 2000 young mothers showed (average age 31.4 years old). In this poll, participants were asked which internet service they use at least once a week. Overwhelmingly, 70.4% say they use line at that frequency, up more than 20% on the previous year’s survey (see chart below).

In comparison, both Facebook and Twitter were also more popular than previous years in this survey, but their growth was not nearly as sharp as Line’s over the past year. If Facebook gets its mobile act together, it could make some further progress in Japan. But I think that if anyone is going to dethrone Line in its home market, it would have to be a service born on mobile. And that isn’t Facebook [3].


  1. This according to Line, as of January 23, 2014.  ↩

  2. As of January 23, there are 22 million in Thailand, 17 million in each of Taiwan and Indonesia, 16 million in India, and 15 million in Spain.  ↩

  3. Facebook had about 21 million users in Japan when we last checked in.  ↩